Johnna Mitchell, at right, holds Bailey as actress Maggie Taylor gives the dog a kiss.

The director called her cast together. Tonight they would tackle their first dress rehearsal. The show opened in just a few days, so the time had come to work out last -minute troubles.

“Is the entire cast here?” director Patti Mactas shouted as cast and crew settled into the seats that soon would be occupied by a paying audience. “Including dogs?”

Dogs?

Well, yes. Dogs. The play Mactas was directing – Act3 Production’s opening show this season, “Legally Blonde: the Musical” – has a canine contingent in its cast.

In short, Bruiser is coming to the stage in Sandy Springs. So is Rufus.

In “Legally Blonde,” the movie that provided source material for the musical, small dogs played big parts in establishing human characters. Bruiser, a purse-sized pup, rode around in sorority girl Elle’s handbag. Rufus was her friend’s dog.

Those roles carried over to the stage version, where the dogs have to be prompt, well-behaved and cute on cue.

In Act3’s production, Bruiser and Rufus are portrayed by pets of members of the theater group. Bruiser is portrayed by Bailey, a 5-year-old miniature poodle who belongs to Johnna Mitchell, the theater troop’s resident choreographer. Sparticus, a 10-year-old, black Chihuahua-terrier mix who belongs to actress Michelle Peck, plays Rufus.

“My dog is the star. Well, she thinks she is, that’s for certain,” Mitchell joked about Bailey, her white, fluffy-haired poodle, who wears a pink ribbon in her hair during the show.

How did her dog win the part? “I just happen to have a portable pooch,” Mitchell said.

But Mactas made selecting Bailey sound easy. She thought Elle would be the kind of character who would own a poodle, and Bailey, she said, “is a little French poodle that fits in Elle’s purse.”

Besides, Bailey already was used to spending time with Maggie Taylor, the actress who plays Elle in the show. “I’m a family friend,” Taylor said. “She knows me.”

In preparation for the play, Taylor and Bailey have spent extra time together to get to know one another even better. “We have a good time on stage,” Taylor said. “Now Bailey is the least of my concerns. My costume changes are much more of a concern.”

Michelle Peck hugs her dog, Sparticus, who plays Rufus in the Act3 production.

During cast warm-up exercises before rehearsal, Bailey and Sparticus were carried about by human cast members until their time to appear in the show. The cast includes about 30 people – 20 adults and 10 high school students – so there were plenty of hands to carry the dogs when needed. During performances, Mitchell said, the dogs will be handed from actor to actor.

That’s not problem for Bailey, Mitchell said. “She loves everybody.”

And both dogs seem to be enjoying their turn in the spotlight, their owners say.

Sparticus is “definitely digging the attention,” Peck said.

“This is like heaven for him, that beautiful women are petting him all the time,” Peck said. “And he gets a treat every time he follows a command and sits on stage. So he’s pretty happy about that.”

Peck enjoys having her dog in the play because it means she can bring him to rehearsals and not leave him at home, alone.

But the real test will come when the audience files in and Sparticus has to perform for a crowd. At one point in the show, “he actually has to walk out on stage and sit,” Peck said.

“He’s done it in every rehearsal,” she said. “Let’s see what happens when the people [in the audience] start reacting.”

 

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